Saturday, September 18, 2010

Florida Cracker makes a documentary

Filmmaker Haley Downs was born in DeLand. Her dad was a Cracker and her mom an Alabama southern belle. When she was 17, she fled her Cracker heritage and sought life in the city. Her travels took her to Miami and then New York. But after a series of personal tragedies, she returned to her Cracker roots and discovered the key to her survival. She has produced a documentary about the journey, Swamp Cabbage: A Hot and Sweaty Documentary.

From the film synopsis: "Swamp Cabbage began in May 1999 when Hayley Downs and Julie Kahn, both Floridians interested in Slow Food and dismayed by the paving of Florida, decided to document Hayley’s father’s wild game feast. As they traced the sources of the game to the wild boar, alligator and rattlesnake hunters, they realized the potential of the project not only to amplify the voice of an under explored and often stereotyped region, but also to address broader contemporary issues of conservation and community.

"Swamp Cabbage is an exploration of our complex relationship to the natural world though Hayley’s unlikely return to her Cracker roots and her discovery of the importance of authentic culture, food and where we lay our head. One-part diary film, one-part cooking show and one-part environmental adventure, Swamp Cabbage  looks and feels like a fast-paced, quirky, irreverent, lyrical, wild ride filled with dark humor, tension, and unexpected truths from an under explored and often stereotyped region."

The filmmakers expect the documentary to be released in 2011. They can be reached by e-mail at

Friday, September 17, 2010

Divers hunt invasive lionfish

The lionfish is native of the Pacific and Indian oceans. In the Atlantic and the Gulf of Mexico, it has no known predators and it reproduces rapidly. It is an invasive species – an aquatic form of the Brazilian pepper or the casaurina tree or Burmese pythons in the Everglades.

It is yet another case in which irresponsible people have released non-native critters into Florida's wilds with potentially disastrous results. They're sold for home aquariums but people often realize they're too aggressive and discard them.

In the Florida Keys recently, more than 100 divers turned out for the first Lionfish Derby, and they brought in more than 500 lionfish, reports.

For divers, catching the spiny critters can be a challenge. Their poisonous spikes can send victims to the hospital. "I heard one person describe that if it stung you on the arm, it wouldn't kill you but you would want to cut your arm off," a Boca Raton diver told WPLG Ch. 10.

They were first seen off Miami in the 1980s but last July a huge population was spotted of Key  Biscayne, and they've even shown up in the Loxahatchee River.

The lionfish likes to live near coral reefs, and that's a problem around Florida because it has a voracious appetite. It eats just about anything, including young grouper, snapper and other tropical fish.

With nothing apparently out there eating them, lionfish tend to take over. However, the Lionfish Derby may prove to be the solution to the problem. The fish is described as delicious with light, white and flakey meat, and derby participants wasted no time in frying them up or serving them in a citrus ceviche.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Venice: Antidote to urban sprawl

In 1925, in the glory days of the Florida land boom, a nationally known orthopedic surgeon sold 1,428 acres south of Sarasota to one of the country’s largest labor unions and quadrupled his investment.

City planner John Nolan
Then he insisted that a renowned city planner be retained to develop a new town. The planner was John Nolan, who was known for his advocacy of the European “garden city” approach to urban planning, keeping urban sprawl at bay with clustered mixed-use neighborhoods. Nolan’s plans made cities that were decidedly walkable.

The result of Nolan’s work became Venice, a city that retains the vision today, so much so that the National Register of Historic Places is considering recognizing the city.

All this has prompted Venice’s historical director, James Hagler, to develop a plan to celebrate the city’s rich history to attract more tourists, reports the Sarasota Herald Tribune. Hagler is planning a fundraiser Sept 21 at the Saltwater Cafe in Nokomis to raise money for the project.

The famed orthopedic surgeon was Dr. Fred Albee, who had pioneered bone grafting and other advances in orthopedic surgery, including a machine that helped with the grafting. Dr. Albee’s work helped many injured World War I veterans.

Dr. Fred Albee
The labor union, the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers, wanted to cash in on the land boom but it also envisioned “a place where the ordinary man could have a chance to get all that the rich have ever been able to get out of Florida.” The BLE built some hotels and buildings in the downtown business district, but lost its investment when the real estate market crashed.

But the city remains, and Nolan’s concept has survived. Nolan worked on plans for other cities in Florida (54 in all), including St. Petersburg. In the Sunshine City, though, his lofty ideals failed at the ballot box with only 13 per cent of the vote. Greed prevailed.

In his book, Visions of Eden, Rollins College professor R. Bruce Stephenson, recounts Nolan’s frustrating efforts in St. Petersburg. "It has been said and with reason," Nolan wrote, "that man is the only animal who desecrates the surroundings of his own habitation."

Last May, WEDU Channel 3 in Tampa aired a documentary, Venice Florida: Moving Forward by Looking Back, about Venice’s development in the 1920s.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Exploring Florida: It's a living!

Video on Kevin Mims' YouTube site. 

Kevin Mims has a remarkably enviable job. He gets paid to paddle Florida's most beautiful rivers, swim in refreshingly bubbly springs and explore natural caverns or underwater coral reefs, then shoot video and write on his blog about his experiences.

Mims is a Florida Insider for Visit Florida, the state's non-profit marketing operation. He's billed as an outdoors and nature expert on Web site, which makes a lot of sense. He's a native Floridian and an avid outdoors adventurer.

"Living in rural Florida, I'm always outside camping, hiking, biking and paddling all over the Sunshine State," Mims says on visitflorida. com. He grew up near Inverness and spent time as a youth exploring the Okefenokee Swamp in south Georgia.

The Palm Beach Post recently published a feature story on Mims after he stopped in West Palm on his way up the east coast from a trip to the Keys. He travels about 30,000 miles a year.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Deputies put gator in handcuffs

Pinellas County Sheriff's Office
Deputies put a rope around the gator's neck and attached handcuffs to it hind legs.
Pinellas sheriff's deputies handcuffed an alligator to keep it from causing damage as it thrashed about against a wall near an elementary school in Oldsmar, Tampa Bay's Fox News reported. A crossing guard spotted the 7.5-foot reptile about the time kids were walking to school. Deputies taped up the critter's mouth with electrical tape,and put a noose around its neck and waited for wildlife officials. But the rambunctious gator thrashed about with its tail so much that the deputies needed to restrain it.

In Tampa, a refuge for sea cows

Mwanner | Wikipedia
Scientists say manatees, which are protected under the Endangered Species Act, can die of starvation if their body temperature drops too low.

If Tampa officials want to move ahead with a $5.7 million project to improve the ecology of the lower Hillsborough River, they're going to have to keep the manatees toasty warm, the Tampa Tribune reports.

At issue is everything from having enough water to supply a thirsty city and helping the river rebound from years of degradation to - and this was the sticking point - protecting the herds of sea cows that seek out the warm waters of Sulphur Springs each winter.

The solution? A thermometer.